Series Preview: Celtics vs. Pacers
BOSTON – The Boston Celtics and Indiana Pacers saw plenty of each other down the final stretch of the regular season, and they’ll become even more acquainted during the first two weeks of the Playoffs.
Boston (49-33) beat Indiana (48-34) by a hair for the fourth seed, largely thanks to the two head-to-head victories it earned during the last week and a half of the campaign. The C’s will look to build upon its 3-1 regular-season mark over Indy during the first round, in which it will hold home-court advantage.
Game 1 will tip off at 1 p.m. Sunday afternoon at TD Garden, but before the action begins, let’s familiarize ourselves with all of the matchups we’ll be seeing from head coaches to bench units.
Head Coaches – Brad Stevens vs. Nate McMillan
One of these head coaches is looking to get past the first round for the third consecutive season, while the other is looking for his first second-round appearance in 14 years.
The former, Brad Stevens, has had tremendous postseason success recently, making it to the conference finals in each of the last two seasons. Sunday will mark the beginning of his fifth postseason appearance, as he will look to build upon his 22-25 career mark.
Nate McMillan, meanwhile, is entering his eighth postseason, though he has not made it out of the first round since the 2004-05 campaign when he was the head coach of the now-non-existent Seattle Supersonics. The 15-year head-coaching vet has appeared in two fewer playoff games than his sixth-year counterpart and holds a less successful win-loss mark at 17-28.
Both coaches have received vast amounts of praise over the last few seasons for maximizing the talent on their respective rosters.
During the 2016-17 season, Stevens helped a group of scrappy underdogs snag the first seed in the East, before leading them to the Eastern Conference Finals. The following year, he led a completely different group of Celtics back to the Conference Finals, despite missing two of his star players.
As for McMillan, he had the challenge last season of dealing with the aftermath of Paul George’s departure. Despite losing his best player, he still managed to lead Indy to the Playoffs with six more wins than the previous year. This season, the Pacers lost their star player again – this time to injury – as Victor Oladipo was ruled out for the season back in January with a ruptured quad tendon. Still, the Pacers managed to replicate last season’s record largely thanks to McMillan’s guidance.
Point Guards – Kyrie Irving vs. Darren Collison
Darren Collison has had a solid past couple of seasons as Indiana’s starting point guard, but he should be no match for Kyrie Irving in this series.
Uncle Drew had an advantage over Collison in every major statistical category this past season, finishing with an All-NBA caliber line of 23.8 points, 5.0 rebounds and 6.9 assists, while shooting 48.7 percent from the field. Collison averaged fewer than half of the amount of points than Irving did with 11.3 PPG, to go along with 3.1 RPG and 6.1 APG, while shooting 46.8 percent from the field.
The only area where Collison had a slight advantage was in 3-point percentage, as he edged Irving 40.9 percent to 40.1 percent; though Irving also attempted nearly four more triples per game.
Irving had great efficiency against the Pacers this season, shooting 50.9 percent from the field, 45.0 percent from 3 and 100 percent from the free-throw line, so he should have a solid edge heading into this best-of-seven series.
Shooting Guards – Jaylen Brown vs. Wesley Matthews
If both teams’ starting shooting guards were 100 percent healthy, then this would have been the most intriguing individual matchup of the series by far. It would have been a battle between an All-Star, high-volume scorer in Victor Oladipo, going up against one of the NBA’s best on-ball defenders in Marcus Smart.
Oladipo, as we all know, will not play at all during this series. Marcus Smart, meanwhile, will miss the entire first round – and possibly more – after suffering an avulsion of his left oblique during the second-to-last game of the regular season.
That leaves Wesley Matthews as the starting 2-guard for Indy, and Jaylen Brown as his likely counterpart.
Matthews was claimed off of waivers less than a month after Oladipo went down and has given Indy a solid boost on the perimeter. Since being acquired, the 10-year vet has led the Pacers in both long-range makes (2.1 per game) and attempts (5.7 per game), which has helped him to average 10.9 PPG. He experienced difficulty in his last two matchups against Boston, however, as he was limited to 14 total points on 5-of-15 shooting from the field and a 2-of-7 clip from long range.
Brown (13.0 PPG) provides a more advanced offensive skillset for Boston, as both a 3-point threat and a slasher. As one of the up-and-coming two-way players in the NBA, he should also have no difficulty holding Matthews in check on the defensive end.
Small Forwards – Jayson Tatum vs. Bojan Bogdanovic
The small-forward matchup will be the most fascinating duel strictly from a scoring perspective.
Both Jayson Tatum and Bojan Bogdanovic are coming off of career-high scoring campaigns. Boston’s second-year wing averaged 15.7 PPG on shooting clips of 45.0 percent from the field and 37.3 percent from 3-point range, while Indy’s veteran wing put up a team-leading 18.0 PPG on clips of 49.7 percent from the field and 42.5 percent from deep.
Even though Bogdanovic had the slight upper hand in scoring and efficiency, Tatum dominated their head-to-head matchups this season. Tatum put up 16.8 points on 51.0 shooting from the field and 47.6 percent shooting from long range, against Indy, while Bogdanovic fell well below his season averages by scoring 13.5 PPG on clips of 43.9 percent from the field and 36.8 percent from 3.
Tatum also completely overshadowed Bogdanovic in their most recent matchup April 5, as he outscored his counterpart 22-4 on the road.
Power Forwards – Al Horford vs. Thaddeus Young
There are only two players in this series who have more than 10 years of NBA experience. Those two guys – Al Horford and Thaddeus Young – also happen to be matching up head-to-head at the power forward position.
The 11-year vets put up very similar scoring and rebounding numbers this season, as Horford averaged 13.6 PPG on 53.5 percent shooting from the field, along with 6.7 rebounds per game, while Young put up 12.6 PPG on a 52.7 percent shooting clip, as well as 6.5 RPG.
Horford, however, is a superior facilitator (4.2 APG to 2.5 APG) and shot-blocker (1.3 BPG to 0.4 BPG). He’s also a much more decorated player from an accolade standpoint, being a reigning All-Defensive teamer and All-Star.
Another area where Horford has an advantage is postseason experience. While he has been in the league for the same number of years as Young, Horford has more than twice as many playoff appearances, having played in 111 such games to Young’s 47.
Horford also has a massive advantage in head-to-head wins over Young, owning a 23-8 record in the regular season and a 4-2 mark in the postseason.
Taking all of that into consideration, it’s clear that Boston’s veteran leader has the upper hand over Indy’s.
Centers – Aron Baynes vs. Myles Turner
Neither team will have an easy time scoring at the rim in this series thanks to the pair of opposing forces in the middle: Aron Baynes and Myles Turner.
Baynes, who missed nearly half of the season due to various injuries, was recently promoted to Boston’s starting center role. The 6-foot-10 Aussie has brought an outstanding defensive presence in the paint and he is also in the midst of his hottest stretch of the campaign, having tallied three double-doubles over his last six games.
Turner, meanwhile, has been the anchor of Indiana’s defense all season long. He has boasted averages 13.3 PPG and 7.2 APG, along with a league-leading shot-blocking average of 2.7 swats per game.
Turner definitely has a statistical edge in this matchup, although Baynes, known for his toughness and grit, will be making it tough on him all series long.
Just like they were neck-and-neck in the standings, the Celtics and Pacers were also neck-and-neck in bench production. Boston and Indy finished ninth and 10th respectively in second-unit scoring, with the former averaging 39.3 PPG to the latter’s 39.1 PPG.
Indiana’s reserve unit is led by double-double machine Domantas Sabonis, who paced the team in rebounding (9.3 RPG) and also finished third in scoring (14.1 PPG) despite averaging fewer than 25 minutes per game. They also have a capable scoring vet in Tyreke Evans, as well as a strong playmaker in Cory Joseph.
The Celtics, meanwhile, have a triple-threat of scorers coming off the bench in Marcus Morris (13.9 PPG), Gordon Hayward (11.5 PPG) and Terry Rozier (9.0) PPG.
Hayward’s outbreak at the end of the year has him trending upward into the Playoffs, making him a major all-around threat in Boston’s second unit. The Pacers know all about that, having surrendered 21 points on a perfect 9-of-9 clip from the field during the last week of the regular season. Morris and Rozier, meanwhile, have a strong postseason resume having both played immense roles in Boston’s success from last postseason.